Skip to main content

A Walk from The Plaza to The Waldorf: A Guide and a Map

The Plaza Hotel
Update, March 1, 2017.  The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel closed February 28, 2017 for long-term renovations. See NYT story.

Walking from the historic Plaza Hotel to the equally historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, with stops at points of interest nearby, is so easy that the stroll can be accomplished in dress shoes or in the highest of high heels. Indeed, fancy shoes would be appropriate, considering the dressed-up venues along the way, if only for the sake of a little play-acting.

As anyone who has ever studied My Fair Lady or Breakfast at Tiffany's knows, affecting membership in the wealthy classes requires a few props and a tweak of the accent. Visitors may also want to tuck in their shirts. Or not. Even if you don't dress up, act like you own the place.

I've been curious of late to see if the Plaza Hotel has regained any of its older flair, being one of those people more than disappointed with its renovation. As a member of the shabby genteel, I can state with some assurance that the old hotel is lost, and a recent visit did not help allay my fears.

A great hotel needs a great hustle and bustle in its lobbies and a rapid movement in and out of revolving doors - many people at the hotel desks, people sitting in the lobby chairs, families waiting on the late ones so they can go to the museum, a concierge explaining availability of tickets to a Broadway play, business people heading to the bar, and so on. The whole place should smell of old roses, a variety of perfumes, mildew, and cigar smoke from fifty years ago. The Plaza, which once had everything going for it, is lacking in these areas.

The hotel, though seriously gutted of its Old World ambiance, at least now has Todd English's Food Hall, a fairly interesting market that offers a variety of foods and counter service. The handsome Boston celebrity chef has brought us a wine bar, a place for charcuterie, a cheese and dessert bar, a pasta bar, and a nice three-quarter-sided dining counter for seafood. Even if some of the market items are available at any New York grocery store, the counter space is welcome, especially for light fare and a glass of wine. I can see the Food Hall working really well in the holiday season. For those who remember the old Plaza and miss the wonderful feeling of its lobby, I recommend revisiting the space through the cinematic magic of movie rentals.

Louis Vuitton
Speaking of the movies, the Food Hall at the Plaza is a good place to grab a snack before settling into a seat of the nearby Paris Theatre just to the south of the hotel on W. 58th Street. In fact, a pleasant way to spend a city afternoon could consist of a light lunch at the Food Hall, a screening at the Paris Theatre, and then a walk down to the nearby Pond in Central Park. Conventional tourist advice would add shopping visits to Bergdorf-Goodman, FAO Schwartz (CLOSED), and the Apple Store, all nearby, to these activities.

We're looking for the smell of old hotel lobbies, the kind of thing that should be sprayed into new hotels to make them more authentic, so we'll press on with our walk. We'll walk south on Fifth Avenue to 57th Street and turn east, stopping to look at the charming window display at Louis Vuitton in honor of the great French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue. This designer homage to the photographer, best known for his youthful images of Paris, celebrates the enduring whimsicality of the Eiffel Tower, especially the sort of luggage it takes to get there.

Borders/ Ritz Tower
Next up - the Four Seasons Hotel (not pictured). Suffice it to say that this isn't the sort of old school hotel we're looking for, but please venture into the entrance and tell me this is not the most intimidating hotel entrance on earth. (I dare not describe the experience fully, for I wish readers to go there themselves, but I left there with my knees shaking and a set of instructions to go find the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.) Before leaving E. 57th St., check out the Borders Bookstore (CLOSED) on the east side of Park Avenue. From 1957 to 1971 the space was once home to Le Pavillon, one of the greatest French restaurants in New York. 

E. 57th and Lexington
Continue walking to the corner of E. 57th St. and Lexington Avenue, staying on the north side of the street. Here we'll stop at a round Renaissance structure, a product of the 1980s, cast our eyes southward, and then contemplate why we love Lexington Avenue so much. The answer is "affordable food." After crossing Madison Avenue and its expensive places and Park Avenue and its nonexistent spaces, Lexington arrives as a godsend, loaded with eateries, both large and small.

This stretch of the avenue, from here down to 42nd Street, is wonderful for architecture, too. Among the attractions of the built environment, look for the Central Synagogue, the Citicorps Center (with its sunken public plaza), the Miami-like Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel, and across the street, the Art Deco General Electric Building (once the RCA Victor Building). Notice the Art Deco sign for the Subway on the south side, and while there, take a walk over to Park Avenue to see St. Bartholomew's Church (or "St. Bart's," as it's affectionately known), one of the city's most ornate churches.

Citicorps Center

Citicorps Center

General Electric Building
If Citicorps Center follows the guidelines for successful public spaces - moveable chairs, a water feature, the availability of food, art, etc., then the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (CLOSED) has found the comparable formula for that elusive Old New York ambiance. The sort of qualities lacking at The Plaza appear in abundance when strolling into the shared spaces of the Waldorf - the concierge explaining the Broadway tickets, the faint smell of scotch emanating from the bar areas, the soft retro lighting in adjacent corridors, soft but clear notes on a piano, the rich bouquets of flowers properly set in vases. The sense of continuity between generations of New Yorkers seems unbroken.


For those for whom lingering in hotel lobbies may be too old school, I suggest a walk to the Roger Smith Hotel, an arts-friendly hotelier, and an elevator ride to its terrace bar on the 16th floor, Henry's Rooftop Bar. It's open Monday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. There, looking out over an old working section of the city, it's possible to have a drink and contemplate what's new in old Manhattan, and how, back in the day, they didn't have such clean air and so many rooftop bars.

Back on ground level, it's easy to find your way home via Grand Central Terminal. Pick up cooked meals to go at the Grand Central Market. At the end of such a walk, everything smells so good. Who knew such a glamorous walk would begin and end at a food court?


View From the Plaza Hotel to Grand Central Terminal in a larger map

Before going home, look at the Graybar Building in the late blue light of the closing day. Isn't it beautiful?

Graybar Building

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple made with the iPhone 4 camera.









Popular posts from this blog

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

Circling the Met: A Springtime Visit to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a double feature of art and nature, the Metropolitan Museum of Art happens to be conveniently situated in Central Park. The front of the museum faces Fifth Avenue, its monumental wings stretching the blocks between E. 80th and E. 84th. The sides and the back of the museum are within easy walking distance of several prominent landmarks within the park.  Cedar Hill in Central Park Before a visit to the Met, consider taking a walk around the museum beginning on the southern side. A walk in the park can serve as a good preparation for a museum visit, because looking at or noticing the shapes and colors of the built and natural environment can enhance the art experience. Cedar Hill in Central Park The path south of the 79 Street Transverse leads to a scene at Cedar Hill very much like a panorama, with a vast wide-angle expanse of green grass and hill. Take the first path that leads back over 79th Street to the southern side of the museum. This path brilliantly disguises the motor traffi

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Visiting New York City Again on the First Day of Spring

  The first weekend of spring in New York City coincided with bright and pleasing weather. Blue skies and Blue Jays, Bald Eagles and brightened crowds greeted the new season, at least in my world. It may be a cliché to say something like “Hope is in the air,” but contrast this spring of 2021 with the one a year ago, the new mood is palpable. Last year during early spring, the city shut down, in caution and crisis, but this season feels like a resurrection, albeit still cautious. The Met Steps on Fifth Avenue Last spring, when many of the city’s residents feared going outside, many are at least partially vaccinated now. The numbers rise every day. I have been fully vaccinated for a month now, so I used the occasion to revisit New York City. I have been out and about in my neighborhood, but in terms of the public New York City, the one celebrated in tourist books and on this website, I have not ventured there much at all.  A Bald Eagle grasps a fish in its talons outside the Met Cloister

Traversing Manhattan: An Afternoon Trip to the Battery and Back Again

  Wherein the vaccinated sightseer from Northern Manhattan travels to the southern end of the island by means of the express bus, the MTA subway, and the NYC ferry, with a little sauntering on foot In Battery Park, during the first blushes of spring in New York. View of One World Trade Center Residents of the far north and far south of Manhattan are the ones most keenly aware that they live on an island. The north end of the borough tapers to a relatively small area of land, bounded by the confluence of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers and the waters of Spuyten Duyvil. The land is hilly and green, with an old growth forest. The Battery sits on the southern end, a land where the geography is defined by the meeting of the East River, the Hudson River, and the vast New York Harbor. Manhattan stretches a little over 13 miles on the long side and just 2.3, more or less, at its width. On 42nd Street, approaching Grand Central Terminal. A resident of the hilly northern terrain may sometimes long

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Walking on Snow

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ For the better part of this new year, snow has been either on the ground or in the forecast. In the city landscape, the streets look enchanting for a day or so and then devolve into a dirty mess. This sort of snow is unappealing for an invigorating walk. A snowy path in Inwood Hill Park The forest, on the other hand, has managed to stay enchanting throughout each bout of winter weather. The presence of owls and hawks, bright red cardinals and sweet chickadees, and brown squirrels and black squirrels transform the woodlands into a fairy tale. An Eastern Screech-Owl at home in the winter forest I've spent much of the whole pandemic year, going back to March 2020, in the woods of Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. While I have been accustomed to walking through the park in spring, summer, and autumn, I've never managed to engage with the deepest parts of the forest when a lot of snow was on the ground. Last winter there wasn't much snow anyway. Eastern Screech-Owl

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr